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William Breckinridge Combs
and Susan Strong

Bad Talt Hall
William Henry Breckinridge "Breck" Combs
William Henry Breckinridge "Breck" Combs b 8 Oct 1856 Pokie Dot Hollow, Snake Valley, near Jackson, Breathitt Co KY d 10 May 1925, s/o William Mason Combs and Sarah Jane Combs. William Breckinridge "Breck" Combs m. about 1876 to Susan Strong b 22 Mar 1855, Troublesome Creek, Breathitt Co KY, d/o Edward Callahan E C "Red Ned" Strong and Nancy Haddix. Children of William Henry Breckinridge "Breck" Combs and Susan Strong;

I. Samuel Goodlow Combs b 7 Jan 1877 m. 1904 to Amelia Ann Snowden d/o John M Snowden and Lydia Unknown.

II. Thomas John Snowden b 5 Oct 1877 d 8 Feb 1910 of tuberculosis.

III. Nathan Lee Combs b 22 Feb 1880 d 29 Feb 1880 of tuberculosis.

IV. Walter Shelton "Shelt" Combs b 20 Dec 1881 m. Elizabeth "Lizzie" Snowden d/o John M Snowden and Lydia Unknown. Walter and Lizzie moved to Bowden Montana after their marriage.

V. Elenor "Lena" Combs b 1 Jan 1886 m. Edward Price Back.

VI. Clemon Combs


William Henry Breckinridge "Breck" Combs
(October 8, 1856- May 10, 1925)

In the years following the Civil War, Breathitt County experienced a horrid succession of bitterly fought family feuds. Caught in the middle of these disagreements and fights were the elected law officials of the county who were in many cases related to both sides of the feud. One of these officials in Breathitt County was William Henry Breckinridge Combs.

Breck Combs was born October 8, 1856 near the mouth of Porter Hollow (Pokie Dot Hollow) of Snake Valley near Jackson, Breathitt County, Kentucky. He was the fourth child of William Mason and Sarah Jane (Combs) Combs, William Mason’s second cousin. Both William and Sarah claimed direct descent from the long line of Perry County Combses that traced their ancestry to the marriage of John Combs and Nancy Williams.

Enjoying the wealth and inheritance of Sarah Jane’s father, Washington “Luke” Combs, William Mason and Sarah built a home on the site now occupied by the home of Buck and Rayetta Fugate on old Quicksand Road (Highway 1812). William was very active in Democratic politics and served several terms as Breathitt County Sheriff and County Clerk. Together William and Sarah raised a family of ten children. The children all attended Cockrell School in Jackson Town.

As a result of the lawlessness in Breathitt County following the war, we can only assume that Breck’s marriage to Susan Strong occurred sometime in early 1876 because the County Clerk’s Office was burned in 1873 destroying all records of their marriage. Susan was born March 22, 1855 on the Strong Family Farm near the site of the old Lost Creek Speedway on Troublesome Creek of Breathitt County, Kentucky. Breck’s marriage to Susan gained him great notoriety because of the wealth and power of Susan’s family.

By 1850, Susan’s parents, Edward Callahan “E. C.” and Nancy (Haddix) Strong, were the wealthiest citizens of Breathitt County due primarily to E. C.’s vast land holdings and the great success of his steam-powered saw mill. “Red Ned,” as E. C. was commonly known, was the First Lieutenant of Company B of the Confederate Fifth Kentucky Infantry.

He was also very active in Democratic politics and served two terms as Breathitt County Judge and one term as Sheriff. Breck and Susan built a home next to Breck’s father. Their home still stands today and is now the home of Eugene and Brenda Combs on Old Quicksand Road.

On January 7, 1877, Susan gave birth to the first of their six children, Samuel Goodlow Combs. Samuel married Amelia Ann Snowden in 1904, the daughter of John M. and Lydia T. Snowden.

Susan gave birth to their second child, Thomas John on October 5, 1877. Thomas spent much of his childhood suffering from tuberculosis which eventually took his life on February 8, 1910.

The Combs’ grief deepened with the birth of their third child, Nathan Lee Combs, on February 22, 1880. Nathan immediately showed signs of the disease that afflicted Thomas and Nathan died on February 29, 1880.

Walter Shelton Combs, Breck’s fourth child was born December 20, 1881 at the family home in Snake Valley. “Shelt” married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Snowden, daughter of John M. and Lydia T. Snowden, and moved to Bowden, Montana.

Breck’s fifth child, Elenor “Lena” Combs was born January 1, 1886. She married Edward Price Back and raised a large family near Dumont Tunnel at Quicksand. Their home still stands.

Susan Combs gave birth to Clemons and raised seven children, one of which was my grandfather, James Carl Combs.

“Wild Hog”, as Breck was known, followed his father’s footsteps into county politics. He was elected sheriff for three terms during the 1880s and 1890s and was charged with keeping order throughout the darkest days of the social upheaval. The most significant event in the life occurred during the night of February 5, 1895 in a small house near the mouth of Smith’s Branch on South Fork.

Breck’s second cousin, Thomas Smith shot and killed Dr. John E. Rader. Breck and Thomas Smith were related through the Combs line and family tradition holds that Thomas had spent a great deal of time as a child at the home of William Mason Combs. Breck was forced to arrest his childhood friend and charge him with murder.

A five month trial ensued and Breck visited the jail regularly. The court of Judge J. D. Redwine found Thomas Smith guilty of murder and sentenced him to hang. During the morning of June 28, 1895, Thomas Smith was taken to a river shoal near the present site of the South Jackson Bridge and was there baptized by Breck. They then walked back up College Avenue to the jail. The scaffold had been erected on some rolling ground where the courthouse parking lot is today.

About one o’clock in the afternoon, Breck led “Bad” Tom, as he was known, out of the jail and to the scaffold. After several songs and a detailed confession by Smith, Breck placed a black bag over the head of Smith and drew a black curtain around the scaffold. He then raised the ax and chopped the rope. Breck’s friend, Thomas Smith fell to his court appointed death.

After the hanging of Thomas Smith, Breck took part in only the minor details of county politics. He served in some capacity in every election. He was both an active and a founding member of the Masonic Lodge, where he served as a Master Mason. William Henry Breckinridge Combs died in the early morning of May 10, 1925 in the front bedroom of his grandson’s, William “Jailer Willie” Combs, home in Jackson from what was most likely pulmonary edema.

Methodist and Masonic services were held at the home of “Jailer Willie” on the evening of May 11. On May 12, 1925, Breck Combs was laid to rest with full Masonic Rights beside his wife, Susan, in the Combs Family Cemetery on Hurst Lane in Jackson KY, overlooking Snake Valley. He lies near thirty-two of his relatives and direct descendants: a quiet rest for a man who served the county during its most turbulent times.

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